The Beauty of Christmas

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This is the season where everything is meaningful. Christmas’ every trapping and trimming seems full of incredible gospel truth. That moon in the sky? Perhaps Mary and Joseph walked under such a moon. The last leaves rattling on the trees? All of nature is trembling in expectation. Gifts? Jesus is the gift. Trees? He was nailed to one. Carols? Angels rejoiced that night in Bethlehem with songs we can only dream of.

There are moments when I feel silly for being so caught up in a season–moments when I catch myself tearing up at commercials or at pictures on Christmas cards. Those are the moments when I start to reprimand myself for being overly emotional or too caught up in the things of this world. But when I scold myself, I hear another, smaller voice reminding me that Jesus loves the little children. He loves the ones who run to him with abandon and rejoice in all the beauty and wonder he has to offer.

Isn’t that truly what Christmas is about? Becoming a child to celebrate a child. If at any point I am to assign deeper meaning to things–isn’t this the season to do it? If I look at the garlands and ribbons and bows and see Christ and his birth and all it means, am I not setting my mind on the things that are eternal? The truth is, when I see my Christmas tree, I am really seeing Christ’s eternally beautiful birth and his eternally significant death. When I hear the carols, I am really hearing God’s everlasting promise to love his people and rescue them. What could be more perfect?

Merry Christmas!

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Bug on a Windshield

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I’m not a bug person. In fact, I’m whatever you would call the direct opposite of a bug person. But this little guy was on my windshield as I left work and I couldn’t help but feel for him.

As I sped up on the way home he adjusted his stance and spread his legs so that he could maintain his balance in the wind. I’ve never identified more with a bug. Sometimes I feel like I am holding on for dear life while everything rushes by me at a million miles per hour.

The winds in my life are full of wonderful and frustrating things: work, family, the swiftly approaching holidays, doubts, fears, happiness, students, friends, bills, ambitions, dreams.

I am learning that whenever I feel like a bug in the wind I should ask myself what GOD says about the winds in my life.

He uses the winds to teach us.

Jonah 1:4–But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.

He sends us winds to revive us.

Ezekiel 37:9–Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

He uses them to show us His power.

Jeremiah 10:13–When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

He sends a wind to save us.

John 3:7-8– 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

These are the things I need to remember when I am feeling overwhelmed.

Resolution #3

I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood. –Clyde Kilby

 

On Wednesday morning I left for work much later than usual. I am always one of the first people at school, but for some reason on Wednesday I took my time in the morning and made it to school right on time instead of an hour and a half early. It was nice to have the sun already halfway up when I stepped into the car. Usually I’m getting to see the first rays of morning as I drive. This later sunrise was gorgeous–there was even a tiny half-formed rainbow. It was worth being scatter-brained during first period just because of the glory of that sunrise.

It’s easy in the car, listening to my favorite music, watching a beautifully unique sunrise, to think of this day as being full of “worthy potentialities.” Somehow, though, when I unlock the door of my classroom all of those “potentialities” melt away and I am left with what seems to be another “plodding and ambiguous” day. It would seem to be an easy fix–just change your mindset and your approach to each day. But have you ever tried to change your entire paradigm for handling a difficult day? It’s tough!

On Thursday and Friday I tried to remember as I walked to my desk and looked at my to-do list that the day before me was as unique as the sunrise I had just witnessed. I would be filled with inspiration for a few moments, and then lose it all when my students walked into the room already fussing with each other. I think this is when relying on Christ becomes the most important thing I can do all day. Maybe my prayer should not have been, Lord, change my heart about these days, make me see them as worthwhile and full of opportunities. That’s a great prayer, I just don’t think it asks the right question. It asks for instant change, for a radically different mindset at 6:00 in the morning.

Maybe my prayer should have been, Lord, you have made these next 24 hours unique and beautiful. Go with me in every hour and show me the opportunities I have to glorify You. When I forget and return to plodding or complaining, show me how foolish it is to believe that this day is just an “evil parentheses.” Show me instead that by relying on You in even my most frustrating and ambiguous moments that you are merely pushing me up another rung on the ladder “toward moral and spiritual manhood.” 

The Home Stretch

It’s here: the home stretch of my 50 book goal. I’ve read 41 books since January 1st, and I’ve selected the last 10 I will read before December 31st. There are ten because I’m relatively sure I won’t finish all of them, so I want to cover myself a little bit!

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Atonement by Ian McEwan: I’m halfway through it and love it so far!

Henry IV, Part I: Because I told myself I’d read all of Shakespeare by the time I’m 25.

Orthodoxy by Chesterton: Because it’s phenomenally good, and I’ve been almost finished with it since 2012!

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson: This is yet another that I’ve started but haven’t finished, and it’s excellent so far!

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell: Reading for the sake of curiosity and cultural relevance.

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky: Because shouldn’t we all read at least one Russian masterpiece each year?

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks: Fascinating stories of the brain and music!

The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan: Impulse purchase that looks like it might pay off.

Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor: I’m learning that I can only take Flannery in small doses. Maybe I’ll get to her novels next year.

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey: A Christmas favorite I know I’ll read. Which means there’s less pressure to finish the Dostoyevsky.

Do you plan out your reading to accomplish a goal? This is a first for me!

Playing School

Today I feel like teacher Barbie. Please notice her neon 1995 outfit and classy red tie. Believe it or not, those are not the reasons I feel like her–even though I did own this doll back in ’95.

Some weeks I feel like I’m just playing school. These feelings spring from two different sources. On the one hand, I feel a very surface-level sense of inadequacy with my own age and my own career. I’m only 23, I’m only 10 years older than my students, and I’m only a second-year teacher. Most days I’m amazed that I’m even allowed to be an adult. Last night, for example, I had a hot dog and Easy Mac for dinner. Talk about sophisticated culinary tastes. 23 is an awkward for a lot of reasons, none of which I’m able to write about right now. Suffice it to say that 23 and single doesn’t feel very “teacherly.”

On the other hand, I’m growing more and more convinced that a lot of what I do every day is a shiny, plastic version of school. And it’s partly my fault. I’m constantly confronted with standards that are asking more and more of my students. At the same time I’m confronted with plans for interventions and accommodations that are asking more and more of me. We, the teachers, are the ones jumping through hoops for our students while at the same time being told that the students should be functioning at a more advanced level. It’s all very confusing! When I was in middle school and high school I already had critical thinking skills. I don’t remember having to learn those skills. Yet with my students, critical thinking–even just regular old thinking–requires a Herculean effort. Are we raising a generation of teacher-dependent students? I’m not sure. I certainly hope not. That’s not what I want for my students–I want them to read, write, and think like educated citizens.

I feel that somewhere there is an intersection between these two sources of teacherly discomfort. Does my inexperience with my career impact my view of my own ability and the ability of my students? Certainly. Is it discouraging to constantly be confronted with more and more to do and less and less time to teach? Without a doubt. I’m sure some of my concerns can be chalked up to inexperience, naiveté, or idealism. I’m also beyond sure that some of the problems I face on an almost hourly basis are slowly wearing away at that idealism. At what point do we expect teachers to give up their passion and idealism for pragmatic, data-driven task lists? Is that a sacrifice I am willing to live with for much longer? Is there a way to keep the passion and excitement alive when the odds don’t seem to be in my favor?

Lots of questions on this cold Friday night.

Music Review: “After All These Years”

AP’s latest album! Available at http://www.rabbitroom.com

I love music, and I listen to a lot of it. That being said, there are two artists whose music I always return to. Chances are if I don’t know what to listen to, I’ll put in Steven Curtis Chapman or Andrew Peterson. Every time I listen to their songs I am reminded of the season of life I was in when that music first became meaningful to me. Listening back through their respective discographies is like a walk through memory lane, spiritually speaking!

That’s why I was so excited to hear that Andrew Peterson had a new album–a “best of” collection coming out. With so many awesome tracks to choose from, I’m sure he had a difficult time narrowing down the final list! There are some great favorites on here, a few new songs, and some re-recordings of old tunes that are very well done. I especially love the new version of “After the Last Tear Falls.” If you listen closely, you’ll hear traces of “Carry the Fire,” one of my favorites that didn’t make it onto this cd.

I’m certainly biased, since I own all of Peterson’s cds and listen to them constantly, but this is a great addition to any collection or a great way to begin discovering all this artist has to offer!

Resolution #2

“Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said, “There is darkness within, and when I die there will be darkness without. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment and then nothing.”

-Clyde Kilby

 

Intelligence requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. No thought is fully conceived without these three parts. All of life is a drama, and these are its fundamental parts: beginning, middle end. The Bible and all of creation start at the very beginning–“In the beginning God created…” If any thought is to prevent cynicism, surely this is it!

God requires a beginning, a middle, and an end of all of us–in our lives, in the universe. We all have a set storyline, a pattern and a path to follow. Knowing that there will be an end that has been planned from the beginning gives us hope and allows us to enjoy the vastness and the splendor we see here. My heart breaks for Bertrand Russell, who, in his blindness, could not see the beauty and the evidence of God in nature. I think of the places I have been where I see vastness and splendor–the Isle of Skye, the American West, the ocean and the endless skies, and I am amazed. God has granted us these things in order that we might see their splendor and praise the one who is more splendid. We should enjoy the vastness on this earth, even if this earthly majesty truly is only a triviality in the face of an eternity that is grander than any we could create or imagine.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

–Romans 11:33-35